By Krishna N. Das
NELLIE, India (Reuters)
Thirty-six years after losing his parents, sister and a four-year-old daughter in one of India’s worst sectarian massacres, Abdul Suban says he is still trying to prove he’s a citizen of the Hindu-majority nation
Suban is one of hundreds of thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims categorised as “doubtful voters“, who will not find their names in a National Register of Citizens (NRC) the northeastern border state of Assam will release on Monday.
“If the government has decided to brand us foreigners what can we do?” said the 60-year-old. “NRC is trying to finish us off. Our people have died here, but we will not leave this place.”
Suban was seated with his wife at their house a few hundred metres from a vast paddy field where, in 1983, scores of people were chased down and killed by machete-armed mobs intent on hounding out Muslim immigrants. He survived by running as hard as he could and hiding behind a bush for days.
Work on the citizens’ register has accelerated under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With an eye on the 2019 national election, the BJP’s Hindu-first campaign has become more strident, critics say, playing to its core base with divisive programmes such as the citizenship test in Assam, already a tinderbox of ethnic and religious tensions.
Elsewhere in the country’s northern heartland, lynchings of Muslim cattle traders have risen under Modi in the country where many Hindus consider cows sacred, further deepening social divides.
The BJP has denied the lynchings have any connection with it being in power. Modi has at least twice publicly spoken out against cow vigilantes.
Several other survivors of the “Nellie Massacre“, which killed around 2,000 people from more than a dozen villages, gave accounts of burying bodies in a mass grave now partly under water.
They said they hoped the release of the NCR list on Monday would not spark further violence. Security has been tightened across Assam.
The citizenship test is the culmination of years of often violent agitations by Assamese demanding the removal of outsiders they accuse of taking jobs and cornering resources in the state of 33 million, known for its tea estates and oil fields.
“The NRC is extremely important to make the Assamese people feel protected,” said Santanu Bharali, the legal adviser to the BJP chief minister of Assam.
“It’s a moral victory. The ethnic Assamese always maintained the presence of foreigners and this will prove that.”
But the opposition Congress party and rights activists say the government is misusing the register to target even legal Indian Muslim citizens who have traditionally voted for non-BJP parties. The BJP and NRC authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations.
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